By: Chinmay Vaidya
Shortly after the 2019 World Cup, which was a drag through most of the group stage before erupting on an international level in the knockout round and the final, it was back to business as usual for the ICC. Global celebrations of sport rightfully overshadow the people running the show, but reality eventually rears its head.
This time, it's full member Zimbabwe suffering the penalties. On July 18, the ICC suspended Zimbabwe with immediate effect from international cricket for violation of the ICC constitution, which doesn't allow government intervention. Zimbabwe's economy is in chaos and the ICC rightfully feared the government was diverting money from funds intended for the development of the sport into other sectors.
"We do not take the decision to suspend a Member lightly, but we must keep our sport free from political interference," ICC Chairman Shashank Manohar said in a statement. "What has happened in Zimbabwe is a serious breach of the ICC Constitution and we cannot allow it to continue unchecked."
This is the first time a full member has been affected. Nepal and the United States have been suspended for the same reason and Sri Lanka was dangerously close to getting the same punishment. The ICC rightfully wants governments and the boards to be their own entities.
However, this suspension doesn't actually solve the problem. Zimbabwe board members will likely be reinstated and the situation, according to media reports, is going to re-examined in the coming months. However, the funding eventually has to get back to Zimbabwe cricket to grow the game. The structure of the board isn't likely to change. So how can the ICC ensure the situation will be any better at the next checkpoint?
Another somewhat important note; Zimbabwe's economy has been unstable for a long time. There was never fear of the government reaching into Zimbabwe cricket's coffers to divert funds. So what changed now? As Grant Flower details here, Zimbabwe cricket has had operational issues for years. So why take action now?
The problem now is coaches and players are now out of job for the foreseeable future. The best ones will be able to latch on in one of the many T20 leagues around the world, but this could be the end of the line for a lot of others. There is a human aspect of this decision many people won't realize. These coaches and players are the ones truly affected by the decision, both emotionally and financially. If the ICC was so worried about government intervention in Zimbabwe's revenue share, why not deliver the amounts to the players individually?
Here's the part where it gets really stupid. Shortly before the World Cup, BCCI was considering sending a letter to the ICC to ban Pakistan from the tournament due to a recent terrorist attack. You think that wasn't politically motivated? When MS Dhoni sported gloves with an Indian military symbol, Prime Minister Narendra Modi got involved. Pakistan still can't host a tour because of an incident from a decade ago. You think all the world's cricket boards are throwing away decades of significant revenue to take some moral stand against Pakistan entirely on their own? If the ICC wants to keep the government out of sports, it's up to the boards to keep sports out of government agendas.
BCCI isn't getting suspended. We know that. But if the governing body for the sport wants to keep cricket "free from political interference", it can't be selective in its approach. The solution is to provide Zimbabwe with a structure the ICC wants to see. Meet with the members tasked with running the organization. Ensure they're adequately funded and dedicated to the game. Zimbabwe being suspended, as mentioned above, doesn't actually solve the problem at hand. This is like putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound. Eventually, you have to actually take the bullet out.
Furthermore, the ICC isn't exactly a big proponent of growing the game itself. The most recent World Cup got cut to 10 teams. The 2023 edition is going to be the same. You want to know what it takes for a nation to get involved in the sport? Take a look at this absurdity.
Keep in mind Iceland cricket has zero, and I mean ZERO, incentive to lie about any of this. As the thread states, Iceland wouldn't need help from anyone if it had all those requirements in place to begin with. How does the governing body of an international sport fail to grow the game on this level? If Iceland's government gets involved, the ICC will suspend the team. But if it isn't doing anything to develop the game in the first place, then what's the real difference? Government intervention goes both ways. The ICC has to be capable to differentiating what is and isn't positive government action on behalf of the sport.
If the ICC wants to be taken seriously as a governing body, go after every board for its wrongdoings. Establish real solutions, not meaningless suspensions. Support nations trying to get into the sport from the top down. In short, do more than the bare freaking minimum of putting together a global tournament once a year. Allow a government to be involved in the growth of the sport for the right reasons. At the end of the day, this suspension only affects Zimbabwe coaches and players. They aren't even the intended targets.
The ICC has been backed into a corner over the years and is beginning to fight back. That's encouraging, except it is fighting back at the wrong people.